#7 The Song of Death
     (Baron de Lahontan, 1703)

The Chevalier Beancour return’d again to the Colony with his Party, and brought along with him twelve Prisoners of the Iroquese, who were immediately conducted to Quebec: After they arriv’d, Mr. Frontenac did very judiciously condemn two of the wickedest of the Company, to be burnt alive with a slow Firce. This Sentence extreamly terrified the Governour’s Lady, and the Jesuits; the Lady us’d all manner of application to procure a moderation of the terrible Sentence, but the Judge was inexorable, ad the Jesuits emply’d all their Eloquence in vain upon this occasion. The governour answered them, “That it was absolutely necessary to make some terrible examples of Severity to frighten the Iroquese; That since these Barbarians burnt almost all the French, who had the misfortune to fall into their Hands, they must be treated after the same manner, because the Indulgence which had hitherto been shown them, seem’d to authorize them to invade our Plantations, and so much the rather to do it, because they run no other hazard, than that of being taken, and well kept at their Master’s Houses; but when they should understand that the French caus’d them to be burnt, they would have a care for the future, how they advanc’d with so much boldness to the very Gates of our Cities; and in fine, That the Sentence of Death being past, these two wretches must prepare to take a Journey into the other world.” This obstinacy appear’d surprising in Mr. Frontenac, who but a little before had favour’d the escape of three or four Persons liable to the Sentence of Death, upon the importunate prayer of Madam and the governess; but though she redoubled her earnest Supplications, she could not alter his firm resolution as to these two Wretches. The Jesuits were thereupon sent to Baptize them, and oblige them to acknowledge the Trinity, and the Incarnation, and to represent to them the Joys of Paradise, and the Torments of Hell, within the space of eight or ten hours. You will readily confess, Sir, that this was a very bold way of treating these great Mysteries, and that to endeavour to make the Iroquese understand them so quickly, was to expose them to their Laughter. Whether they took these Trusts for Songs, I do not know; but hits I can assure you, that from the Minute they were acquainted with this fatal News, they sent back these good Fathers without ever hearing them; and then they began to sing the song of Death, according to the custom of the Savages. Some charitable Person having thrown a Knife to them in Prison, he who had the least Courage of the two, thrust it into his Breast, and died of the Wound immediately. Some young Hurons of Lorette, aged between fourteen and fifteen years, came to seize the other, and carry him away to the Diamant Cape, where notice was given to prepare a great pile of Wood. He ran to death with a greater unconcernedness than Socrates would have done, if he had been in his case. During the time of Execution he sung continually; “That he was a Warriour, brave and undaunted; that the most cruel kind of Death could not shock his Courage, that no Torments could extort from him any Cries, that his Companion was a Coward for having killed himself through the fear of Torment; and lastly, that if he was burnt, he had this Comfort, that he had treated many French and Hurons after the same manner. All that he said was very true, and chiefly as to his own courage and firmness of Soul; for I can truly swear to you, that he neither shed Tears, nor was ever perceiv’d to Sigh; but on the contrary, during all the time that he suffer’d the most horrible Torments that could be invented, and which lasted about the space of three hours, he never ceas’d one Minute from singing. The soles of Feet were roasted before two great Stones red hot, for more than a quarter of an hour; the tops of his Fingers were scorch’d in a Stove of lighted Pipes; during which Torture he did not draw back his Hand. After this the several joynts of his Body were cut off, one after another: The Nerves of his Limbs and Arms were distorted with a little Iron Wand, after such a manner, as cannot possibly be express’d. In fine, after many other Tortures, the hair of his Head was taken off after such a manner, that there remain’d nothing but the Skull, upon which these young Executioners were going to throw some burning Sand, when a certain Slave of the Hurons of Lorette, by order of Madam Governess, knock’d him on the head with a Club, which put an end to his Martyrdom. As to my self, I vow and swear, that the Prologue of this Tragedy created in me so great a Horror, that I had not the curiosity to see the end of it, nor hear this poor Wretch sing to the last moment of his Life. I have seen so many burnt against my Will, amongst those People where I sojourn’d, during the course of my Voyages, that I cannot think of it without trouble. ‘Tis a sad Spectacle, at which every one is obliged to be present, when he happens to Sojourn amongst these Savage Nations, who inflict this cruel kind of Death upon their Prisoners of War; for as I have told you in one of my Letters, all the Savages practice this barbarous Cruelty. Nothing is more grating to a civil Man, than that he is oblig’d to be a Witness of the Torments which this kind of Martyrs suffer; for if any one should pretend to shun this Sight, or express any Compassion for them, he would be esteem’d by them a Man of no Courage.

#7 Louis Armand Lom d’Arce, baron de Lahontan, New Voyages to North-America, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites, Vol. 1, 1703. Chicago, A.C. McClurg, 1905, p. 266-270.

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